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Book Review: "The Lighthouse Witches" by C.J Cooke

by Annie Kapur 3 months ago in literature

5/5 - the best gothic folk horror in years...

There are certain books I have read in my time that are atmospheric classics. Books such as: The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and even Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. But, I had yet to read a book which told the atmosphere of the dark sea scenes so well within its writing. Of course, we have the scenes at sea of books such as: Moby Dick by Herman Melville in which the scenes at sea are atmospheric yes, but far more about whales than about the haunting nature of the sense of place, The Old Man and the Sea I find is a lovely example by Ernest Hemingway but still - not as haunting and brooding as I would like and finally 20’000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne which is most obviously the darkest and most brooding of the three. The Lighthouse Witches by CJ Cooke though, is a completely different thing. Whilst we have the very normal atmospheres of everywhere else, whether it be light or dark - the parts set at the lighthouse overlooking the sea seem far darker, always seem very dangerous and all of a sudden, like a wave, it rushes over you and brings you into the same feeling the characters have of impending doom.

The images we get of the lighthouse initially are incredible. Inside it is damp and dark, filled with creatures of the night like bats and insects. Even though the excursion taken by the characters is for a job, we really do get a sense right from the beginning that within these gothic walls, something is very much wrong. The lighthouse itself stands above a prison of witches, women accused were once housed there to await their deaths. Within this is born a frame narrative kind of story in which we can only imagine what kind of tortures went on and how the dead women now feel. In a beautifully gothic way, the author takes a folkloric atmosphere and turns it into a gothic masterpiece, setting it at the chilly waters, between the tales of the divine, the fantastical and the brutal realities of what we know to be true. I would personally list this book under the subgenre of gothic folk horror, which is rare itself to find but you can only imagine this being turned into a TV series or a film directed by someone like Ari Aster (which I hope happens, but we can only hope).

The language really does reflect the dark atmosphere, intense as it is from time to time, it can sound almost serene - as if it is too serene. An eerie quality of this book that leaves you waiting for the climactic point, yet it never comes. It is a brilliant technique that only works half the time and yet, works all the time in this book. The timing and pace of the novel is absolutely perfect:

“She squints at the object. It’s about thirty feet away, moving on the waves. A cloud shifts from the moon and for a moment the light finds the object. It’s a face. A human face, its mouth open in a howl, someone in the water.”

In conclusion, I adored reading this book and though I don’t want to give too much away about the plot of the novel, I think and hope I have told you enough to make you want to read it for yourself. An incredible book that I have spent a long time waiting for and I can tell you as an absolute fact that I was in no way disappointed.


Annie Kapur

Film and Writing (M.A)

130K+ Reads on Vocal

IG: @AnnieApproximately

Pronouns: (she/her/hers)

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